Spring Hiking and Basic Gear

Spring Hiking and Basic Gear

Spring has sprung, and it’s time to hit the trails. Before heading out for that inaugural first hike of the season, take time to organize your day hike and backpacking essentials. Never head out for any hike without the right gear.

What to take hiking

Whether striking out for a short or long hike, every hiker should carry basic essentials. These include:

  • A first aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Compass and a map
  • Water, plus a way to purify water
  • Food
  • Extra clothing plus rain gear
  • Sunscreen, sunglasses and hat
  • Multipurpose tool and/or pocketknife
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Fire-starter and waterproof matches
  • Cell phone

Your first aid kit should include more than just basic bandages and aspirin. Be sure to have supplies to treat burns, punctures, bug bites and injuries such as twisted ankles. Always include cold packs, tweezers and even a snake bite kit.

Never solely rely upon a cell phone GPS as a guide tool. A quality compass is an essential tool all hikers should carry and know how to use. A compass doesn’t need a power source or satellite signal to work. Likewise, it’s smart to carry a topographic map of the area where you’re hiking if you need to find a water source or return route if you end up off the original trail.

Brita  Soft Sided Water Filtration Bottle, 24 oz Blue Being prepared for all eventualities can save your life when hiking. Always carry water and a way to purify water from a natural source if the occasion requires it. Water purification tablets are lightweight and easy to add to your day-pack. If you find the taste of water from park pumps or fountains not so palatable, consider carrying a water bottle with its own filtration device, such as Brita’s soft-sided water filtration bottle.

Hiking apparel and shoes

Your hiking supplies extend beyond your day-pack or backpack. Look for hiking boots that offer support and comfort not only for your feet but also for your ankles. Hiking along uneven trails without supported ankles is a recipe for a twist or sprain. Before buying new hiking shoes/boots, consider the type of trails you’ll be traveling and if you plan to be out in wet and/or cold conditions.

Layers are important when hiking. Avoid cotton because it lacks insulation properties if it gets wet and also does not wick moisture away from your skin. Instead, look for synthetic blends, including thermal wear for hiking in colder weather. Wool and fleece are other great options for layering, and don’t forget a waterproof outer layer. Socks are a critical item and should offer comfort and breathability, as well as help protect feet from blisters. Opt for socks designed specifically for hikers to ensure a comfortable fit.

Other hiking must-have items

Depending on the size of your pack and the length of your hike, you may also consider adding items such as insect repellent, gloves, an emergency blanket (look for the reflective kind that folds up into a small square) and even a roll of duct tape, which can come in handy for a variety of emergency repairs to shoes, backpacks and more.


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Gardening: Farm-to-Table Cooking

Gardening: Farm-to-Table Cooking

Home cooking allows you to select healthy recipes made from fresh, natural ingredients without the additives found in processed foods. Processed foods often contain high levels of sodium, saturated fats, chemicals and sugar. The average American eats as much as 22 teaspoons of sugar daily, much of it from processed foods. One of the healthiest and tastiest ways to ditch the processed foods is to indulge in farm-to-table cooking.

What is farm-to-table cooking?

Farm-to-table cooking begins with buying fresh food from an individual or group who produces or grows the food on a small scale. Farm-to-table also includes buying from local growers because, typically, the closer you are to where your food is grown and harvested, the better it will taste. Growing your own vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices is another way to enjoy farm-to-table cooking as well.

What to grow in home garden

If you’re new to gardening, contact your local University Extension Office for information about the soil conditions in your area and which vegetables, fruits and herbs grow best. Consider a range of produce and include common recipe ingredients such as tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, onions, garlic, basil, carrots, green beans, lettuce, peas, radishes, zucchini, squash and cucumbers. Remember that plants such as tomatoes often need a cage to support growth and keep the fruits from drooping into the soil.
Charcoal Companion Non-Stick Circle Kabob Skewers / Set 4

Recipes from the garden

Fresh, delicious meals cooked farm-to-table don’t have to be complicated. Easy recipes from the garden range from fresh salads to grilled veggie kabobs and flavorful pasta dishes that will delight your family as well as dinner guests. One of the easiest garden-fresh recipes even a novice cook can make with ease is Summer Veggie Pasta.


From the garden:

  • About 10 cherry tomatoes, halved, or 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium summer squash, peeled and sliced
  • 3 basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

Other ingredients:

  • About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon each black pepper and red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound angel hair pasta, cooked

Pfaltzgraff  Rustic Leaves 9.5'' Vegetable Bowl - With Butterfly Sauté the vegetables in a skillet with the olive oil and other ingredients. Once the zucchini and summer squash are crisp-tender, remove from heat. Place the cooked pasta in a large serving dish and pour the vegetable sauté over the pasta. Sprinkle with fresh, grated parmesan cheese. Serves three to four people.


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Family Fun with Easter DIY Crafts

Family Fun with Easter DIY Crafts

Easy DIY Easter crafts

Dress your kids in bunny ears for Easter. Make ears by stapling or gluing construction paper ears to a paper headband that circles a child’s head above the eyebrows. First, help kids draw and cut out two long graceful ears. Have them color a pink center on the front of each oval, to look like the inside of the ear. Wrap a paper band around the child’s head, mark the size, remove and staple. Staple or glue the ears to the inside of the back of the band (with the prongs of the staples to the outside) and you’re done. Fast and easy!

Crayola  Classic Colors Non-Washable Marker Mini baskets are easy to make, too. Rinse square milk cartons and cut off the top two-thirds. Have kids cover the bottoms with construction paper and decorate them with markers or stickers. Make holes with a heavy-duty hole-punch and tie on a handle made from braided yarn or pretty fabric. The baskets are just the right size to hold a nest of Easter grass and a single colorful egg.

Holiday crafts with eggs

Coloring eggs is fun and easy. For something special, though, use painters tape to make striped, spiral or abstract eggs. This project is easy, especially if you prepare everything in advance.

First, boil and cool the eggs. This can be done a day or two ahead. At the same time, arrange your area, with newspaper padding to catch spills and protect surfaces. Also set up a place for the eggs to dry. This can be as simple as a few empty egg cartons.

McCormick  Food Color & Egg Dye, AssortedWhen you are almost ready to start, prepare the colors. Use food coloring or egg dye if the eggs will be eaten, although craft dyes do produce more vivid colors. Then, tear off strips of painter’s tape or masking tape about 6 inches long. One by one, cut or tear them into narrow strips. These can be straight, scalloped or curved. You can also cut squares and circles of tape.

Now everyone can begin. First, each child should dye an egg a pale color like yellow or pink and let it dry. Next, apply the tape, smoothing the edges down carefully. Tape resists the dye, so the shell underneath stays pale.

Straight strips make stripes, and crossed strips make plaid or checks. To make a long spiral, wind a curved strip around an egg. The best eggs might be the ones with random patterns.

You can repeat these steps indefinitely, although colors can get muddy after a while. Each time, be sure to let the egg dry completely before removing the tape. Now arrange the eggs and baskets where everyone can admire what they’ve accomplished with these easy DIY Easter crafts.


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Bringing Home a New Puppy

Bringing Home a New Puppy

Once you make the decision to adopt a puppy, preparing your home for a young dog takes careful consideration. As cute as they are, puppies can turn your organized home into chaos and can accidentally leave their mark on places not designed for uncontrolled “puppy love.”

Purina  COMFY CUBE 24X24X8 What to get before getting a puppy

  • Bedding—Whether you plan to keep your puppy confined to one area of your home or you prefer to turn baby Fido loose to roam, put comfortable and washable bedding in every room that will be his territory. When you make his bed more attractive than any other surface in the room, you won’t have to worry about stained furniture or your own expensive bedding.
  • Collar and ID—Even puppies need a collar with important identification and vaccination information. (Also consult with your vet about permanent ID such as inserted microchips.) The safest puppy collars are leather, non-stretch styles that aren’t too snug. Even small puppies can be trained to a leash and harness, preferably in two sizes—long and short.
  • Feeding—Use spill-proof water containers to avoid a mess. Animal organizations usually suggest buying ceramic or stainless steel food dishes (placed on an easy-to-clean mat) because plastic absorbs bacteria and odors. Puppies, like babies, need important nutrients during their formative years for healthy growth. Check with your vet for food recommendations before buying an unfamiliar supermarket product.
  • Grooming—Even puppies require regular grooming. If you plan to do this, have a soft brush designed for puppies, a nail trimmer and a flea comb on hand.
  • Toys—Puppy toys are important because your new furry baby is a four-legged chewing machine looking for adventure and conquest. Offer your puppy durable, safe, size-appropriate toys for chewing. Find toys that also help dental hygiene, and you won’t have to worry about your favorite shoes.

Champion Breed  Puppy Pads, 50 pads Preparing your home for a dog

Until your puppy is house-trained, cover all furniture with absorbent cloth or add a layer of plastic. Even if you tell your kids not to put the puppy on the sofa, you know it’s going to happen. Other tips include:

  • Use only machine-washable area rugs.
  • Keep pet-designed, enzymatic carpet care products on hand for any accidents. When you can, soak up urine immediately with an absorbent towel and treat with a pet cleaning product.
  • If you have hardwood floors, another tip for preparing your home for a puppy is adding a polyurethane seal to your hardwood floors to prevent urine spots and odors.

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Healthy Smoothies

Healthy Smoothies

You can’t beat a healthy smoothie recipe for a quick energy boost when you want a guiltless snack or as a way to control a weight loss program at breakfast and lunch.

“Get going” breakfast smoothie

Everyone needs an energy boost in the morning from foods that contain a balance of protein, carbohydrates, fiber and vitamins. Not only does this healthy smoothie recipe take only 15 minutes, you also have all day to work off smoothie calories.


  • 1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 1/2 banana
  • 6 ounces nonfat or reduced fat plain or strawberry yogurt
  • 4 ice cubes (or less if you use frozen strawberries)
  • 1/4 cup skim or 1% milk
  • 1 tablespoon wheat germ (rich in protein, vitamins, minerals and folic acid)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons maple syrup

Hamilton Beach  Mini Personal Blender with Travel Lid -Black Directions:

Smoothie tip: Add liquids first; then put fruits, veggies and natural supplements in the middle and ice at the top. Place all the ingredients in your blender. Begin to blend on low and slowly increase to a high speed. Run for about 30 seconds.

Green veggie and fruit smoothie

Not only is this smoothie perfect for lunch, the ingredients also can help to make your skin more radiant. If you can handle the extra cost, include organic ingredients on your smoothie shopping list. Smoothie tip: “Chunky chop” veggie and fruit ingredients before adding to blender.


  • 1 1/2 cups quality water
  • 1 bunch romaine lettuce (about 6 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups celery stalks
  • 7 cups spinach
  • 1 apple or pear, cored with skin on
  • 1 banana
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice


Add the ingredients to your blender and mix until creamy smooth.

Before bedtime cherry smoothie

A healthy lifestyle isn’t complete without a good night’s sleep. Studies show that cherries are rich in the sleep hormone, melatonin.


  • 1 cup tart cherry juice (bottled)
  • 1/2 cup plain or vanilla flavored soy milk
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 ice cubes


Place all ingredients in blender and mix until smooth.

Heart-healthy purple smoothie

All berries, whether fresh or frozen, are rich in flavonoids. Scientists believe flavonoids help to keep arteries dilated and prevent plaque buildup. This healthy smoothie recipe offers powerful heart benefits.


  • 1 banana
  • 1/4 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup orange juice (natural sugars only)
  • 2 teaspoons agave nectar or honey
  • 1/2 cup fat-free or lowfat plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup extra-firm tofu
  • 1 teaspoon chai seeds (available at any health food store)


Blend all ingredients until smooth and drink immediately.


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How to Plant a Salad Garden

I don’t know about you, but salad was always at the dinner table when I was a child. A lot of time has passed since then, but I still enjoy a salad nearly every day. Back then the salads of my youth consisted of plain iceberg lettuce and tomatoes swimming in dressing. Then I discovered the tasty side of salads made with gourmet greens tossed with lots of fresh veggies. So 20 years ago I decided to toss up our own garden-fresh gourmet greens and veggies by growing a salad garden. And so can you.

It doesn’t matter if your garden or backyard space is large or small. All you need is a 4 x 4 foot space (16 square feet) to raise a substantial harvest of colorful greens and tasty garnishes. This size space will accommodate a variety of greens and one cucumber plant along with smaller vegetables like green onions, carrots, radishes, and baby beets–which are especially tasty in salads when roasted.

Naturally your salad garden will need more space for herbs and veggies like basil or chives as well as tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and eggplant–yet another tasty topping when roasted in the oven. Just figure on adding at least another square foot of growing space for each additional vegetable or herb.

You can still grow your greens even if your gardening space is confined to a partially sunny to sunny area on your deck, patio, courtyard, or balcony. However, instead of the ground, you’ll be growing your salad garden in large boxes or containers. I especially like the Emsco Group Patio Grow Box available at Kmart’s online store. It’s self-contained design is ideal for growing produce on your patio, deck, or in other small spaces.

Getting started

Whether you grow a salad garden in containers or in the ground, choose a site with well-drained soil that gets at least four hours of daily sun. Start with the basics by working in a 2 to 3 inch layer of compost or aged manure into the soil. This will get your greens off to a great start. Garden soil, however, is too heavy for growing vegetables in containers, so be sure to use a commercial potting mix instead. You’ll find many options, including organic potting mix, at your local Kmart.

Greens and cooler season veggies like carrots, radishes, and green onions can be planted now. But wait until frost danger has passed before planting tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and other veggies and herbs that thrive in warmer weather.

Here’s an example of what you can plant in a 16 square foot salad garden:

Two square feet in crisphead or romaine lettuce (1 plant per square foot)

Two square feet in looseleaf lettuce (4 plants per square foot)

Four square feet in mixed greens, such as spinach, Asian greens, baby swiss chard, baby kale, arugula, etc. (4 plants per square foot)

Three square feet in sugar snap peas or snow peas (16 plants per square foot)

Three square feet in radishes, carrots, green onion, baby beets (16 plants per square foot)

One square feet in cucumbers (1 plant), either trellised or bush variety

One square feet in herbs or edible flowers, such as basil or nasturtiums (1 plant per square foot)

The key to a salad garden that tastes great is to provide essentials for fast growth, including consistent moisture and essential nutrients via compost, aged manure, or other fertilizer. In addition to amending the soil with fertilizer before planting, side-dress your plants about four weeks after planting.

Harvest your greens when young and tender. And though I’ve said it many times, it bears repeating: The best time to harvest is in the early morning or on an overcast day when the dew is still on the leaves. Then toss your way to creating your own signature salad that only you can grow.


Jazz up your salad with this sweet and flavorful vinaigrette.

1/2 cup chopped apricots, fresh or canned

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons honey

2 teaspoons stone-ground mustard

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 to 2 teaspoons chopped fresh herb of choice, such as basil or parsley

Salt and pepper, to taste

Puree apricots in a blender, then add vinegar, honey, mustard, sesame oil and garlic; process until smooth. Slowly dribble in the olive oil until blended. Whisk in fresh herb of choice along with salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 1.25 cups vinaigrette.

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Name that Bloom

Name that Bloom

Finally! Color is starting to poke through the earth. Three cheers for these precocious blooms. How many pictured below can you name?


1: Green thumb you are not
2: Flower plower
3: Good friend of a green thumb
4: Flowerologist’s aide
5: You know your flowers!

These blooms signal spring and weather that gets you back into the yard. Speaking of the yard, maybe you need a few things to get it in order. Check our Daily Deals for great prices.

Allium1. In Latin this translates to “garlic” and legend has it that it was named this because people thought the smell was unpleasant and were told to avoid it. Onions, garlic, chives and leeks all are in this bloom’s family.





Scilla2. Rugged and adaptable, this deep blue flower is revered for being tough and beautiful.






Crocus3. A name adopted from Latin for saffron, this bloom’s stamens are cultivated to create the spice.






Narcissus4. Named after the Greek myth about a hunter who was exceptionally proud of his good looks, so much that he couldn’t help staring at his reflection in the water.





Grape-Hyacinth5. Not a hyacinth at all despite the name, this guy is a member of the lily family. Muscari is the genus for this bloom, aptly named for its pleasing fragrance.





Snowdrop6. Its genus, Galanthus, is Greek for milk flower. This flower’s hardened leafs are good at pushing through frozen soil.






1)Allium. 2)Scilla. 3) Crocus. 4) Narcissus. 5)Grape Hyacinth. 6)Snowdrop.


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Staying Organized in the Laundry Room

The laundry room probably isn’t one of your biggest concerns when thinking about getting organized around the house, but chaos in the laundry room can spill into the rest of your home.  Let’s work on getting it under control.  Instead let’s shoot for” controlled chaos”!  The only time laundry ever really seems organized is when it neatly folded and put away a drawer in the bedroom. Other than that it’s CHAOS.  The dirty laundry bin – the laundry baskets in the bathroom – even the sorting bins before it goes into the washing machine – it’s all chaos. My objective is to control the chaos. I’m going to share some simple systems that will help you make laundry and your laundry room organized so it becomes an easier chore.

Start with easy to carry bins or baskets in everyone’s room.  Keep in mind that even the youngest member of the family can carry down their dirty laundry – as long as the basket is easy for them to carry. Look for looped plastic handles on the containers that are pliable and easy to use no matter who’s using it.

Give each person in your family a specific color basket.  This keeps things simple and identifiable.  Each member of the family will learn their color and know to bring it back upstairs when it’s clean and folded.

Create a sorting system in each person’s room using three different bins. If space is limited in the bedrooms you can put it in your laundry room. I find that I like to keep each person’s cloths separate from the others – then I don’t have to separate the clothes after washing and drying. Having each family member sort their own clothing saves you time. . Have a bin for darks, whites and colors. I also have a spot spray for stains handy in each bedroom so each family member can pre-treat the stains when they are changing. This pre-treatment is necessary so that the stains don’t mistakenly go through the laundry and become permanently set.

Keep dry cleanable clothing somewhere far away from the laundry room. You don’t what to mistakenly put the dry cleaning in the washer and ruin those expensive cloths.  Use a collapsible bag so you can easily take them to the dry cleaner.

Keep your laundry supplies organized and easily accessible. I suggest placing these items on a separate shelf to prevent spills and leaks. Put your liquid bottles inside a plastic box or container so if they do leak, everything is contained.

Place a shower rod close to the dryer so you can take things straight from the dryer and hang them to prevent wrinkles.  If you dry your cloths until they are just slightly damp and then hang them,  you will almost never have to iron your clothes.

Purchase some nice wood or padded hangers for shirts and jackets. Wire hangers are tough on clothes and leave marks in the shoulders of your clothing.

Get into a routine that will make laundry much easier for you and your family. I assign each family member a day to bring down their laundry and we put it into the washer in the morning. When we come home from work we place the first load in the dryer and the next load goes in the washer. We can get three loads done by bedtime. We also fold everything as it comes out of the dryer. I have a friend that piles all the clean clothes on their pool table and then they have to have a family event to fold the “mountain of clothes”.  It’s much easier to fold them as they come out dryer. And since they all belong to the same person, you can just take that color coded basket straight to their room. No more mountains of clothing!

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